In the first week of December last year, City Hall was expected to decide whether to approve a homeless advocate’s proposal to transform a Tenderloin parking lot into a temporary site for tiny homes and services, but instead the decision is being held up by bureaucracy.
The indefinite postponement in the decision caught Amy Farrah Weiss, a former mayoral candidate and champion of tiny homes, by surprise.
She spent months working to build neighborhood support for the interim use of the parking lot at 180 Jones St. as a homeless “stewardship village” for at least a year before the site will become an affordable housing development. The plan includes five tiny homes, a dog park and services. She also raised private funds to pay for it.
As Weiss was working on the plan, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, which oversees the site, established a competitive process in October 2019 for people to submit proposals for interim uses and said the decision would come out the first week of December 2019. It’s unknown how many proposals besides Weiss’s were submitted. The process is confidential until an outcome is determined.
Weiss submitted and waited and, come the first week of December, called the Mayor’s Office of Housing to find out the results.
In response, she got an email on Friday, Dec. 6, just after 5 p.m. from Mayor’s Office of Housing staffer Joyce Slen telling her the whole process was placed on hold.
“We are putting our interim use selection process on hold while the city completes its analysis of city-owned sites that may be viable to help address needs related to homelessness,” Slen wrote in the email. “I will be sure to let you know once I have an update.”
Concerned the “on hold” status threatened her plan, Weiss wanted more answers. As it was, she had wanted an earlier start, but The City recently extended the lease with the parking lot operator to May 2020.
Interim director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Dan Adams said in a Dec. 9 email to Weiss, “I very much appreciate the work you’ve put into re-imagining an interim use for 180 Jones.”
“Unfortunately, we are on hold until the city completes its analysis. We will provide you with updates as soon as we have them,” Adams wrote.
Weiss, founder of the nonprofit St. Francis Homelessness Challenge, continued to press for answers, such as who requested the analysis and who was doing it. She told her supporters last month in an email how she hadn’t got those answers.
“This 11th hour delay is preventing SFHC and our partners from continuing the necessary site development and program planning for a successful May 2020,” Weiss wrote.
It was in this context that Weiss briefly interrupted Mayor London Breed at her Dec. 17 press conference on the opening of Embarcadero Navigation Center, demanding answers.
“We agree with Mayor Breed that we need to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy to strategically address crisis conditions on our streets,” Weiss told the San Francisco Examiner in a recent interview. “And that is what she said at the opening of the Navigation Center at the Embarcadero. And that is why it was so distressing for me to hear her say that. Because here we were ready to keep the momentum going and start the planning process and the community process for our May 2020 activation and her office is specifically putting a block into us being able to continue.”
The Examiner learned that the Mayor’s Office requested the analysis of the sites, which included two under the Mayor’s Office of Housing, 180 Jones St. and 600 Seventh St.
“Mayor Breed directed her staff to lead a search for available sites that could provide services to help address the crisis of people living on our streets,” Jeff Cretan, the mayor’s spokesperson, told the Examiner Friday. “The goal is to find places that will allow us to implement strategies being put forward by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the Department of Public Health, and other city agencies to help those who are suffering on our streets.”
“We continue to look at sites for more interventions for those in crisis on our streets, whether that be for more shelters, meth sobering centers, drop-in centers, Safe Parking facilities, or other programs,” Cretan continued. “180 Jones is being considered as part of that process, among other sites both publicly and privately owned. We are moving quickly to implement real solutions wherever we can.”
For Weiss, the situation isn’t just about her project, but about how City Hall functions. She called it a “learning opportunity to figure out how do we make the system actually do what it says it’s supposed to do.”
The Planning Department’s Community Stabilization plan recommends projects like Weiss’s to address homelessness through “innovative housing approaches.” It calls for “additional temporary and/or creative space to accommodate unhoused residents, such as non-traditional housing in terms of scale, materials and construction and temporal conditions.”
Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin, expressed concerns about the delay in the process.
He said he was “supportive of activation of the site that provides well-designed and neighborhood-informed solutions” to address the homelessness crisis and need for open space.
“There should be a lot of urgency around this, even if there’s a citywide analysis being done,” Haney said. “I still don’t understand why MOHCD had decided to indefinitely delay plans for that lot. I’m definitely concerned by that decision”
He added that “what’s happening there now is not working. There are much better uses for that site than a parking lot that has frankly had a lot of problems.”
In response to questions this week from the San Francisco Examiner regarding the 180 Jones St. proposal, the Mayor’s Office of Housing provided an emailed statement saying “MOHCD expects to announce an interim use for the site by the end of the month.”